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The recent Harvey Nichois site redesign received some criticism for its perceived lack of a luxury feel, and its 'middle of the road' look. 

It seems that luxury brands and retailers are to be judged by slightly higher standards than more 'mass market' businesses, so how do they handle this? 

In a two part post, I'll look at what makes a site luxurious, and where some brands are going wrong...

Do luxury brands have to be different online? 

I suspect the answer to this is a resounding yes. People buy from luxury brands for various reasons: 

  • Status (showing off). Look at me, I can afford a £6,000 watch etc...In fact, there seems to be a market in producing stupidly expensive items just for this purpose. I blame overpaid footballers. 
  • Quality. If you buy a £6,000 watch or a designer dress, you're expecting higher standards of craftsmanship. 
  • Exclusivity. Scarcity is a big part of this. People want a piece of clothing etc that very few others have. 
  • The 'experience'. People look for a different buying experience, and certainly a better class of customer service. 

The trouble for luxury brands online is that a lot of what makes them luxury brands occurs offline, such as fancy showrooms, personal service and so on. 

Burberry's flagship London store is a great, hi-tech version of this: 

Online, if you're expecting people to spend big money on big ticket items, then providing a great user experience is the least you can do. 

Quite what form that UX takes is another matter. There are a lot of very usable sites out there from brands like John Lewis, but these don't necessarily convey luxury. 

However, many luxury brands have attempted to be a little more creative over the years, and have focused on form to the detriment of function. 

Problems with luxury brands online

Mystery navigation

Awful usability is the main problem, and the Dom Perignon site is a prime example of this. It takes an hour to load, and the navigation is appalling. 

 

Painfully slow load times

Givenchy's site is another example. Like Dom Perignon, it's slow (you'll see the timer every time you select a new section) and the company has seemingly failed to grasp that people might arrive at the site wanting to buy something. 

Click the 'e-store' link and you might expect to be able to shop online. Not unless you download an app you can't. 

Barriers to entering sites

To get into Henessy's site, you have to first select your country (because there's no way of doing this automatically right?) then enter you date of birth. 

I realise this is a silly rule put in place by the industry watchdogs etc, but Hennessy manages to make this even harder than most other sites manage. 

Realising that people will just lie about this pointless question anyway, most alcohol sites default at a suitable date so the user can just select enter, but here you have to actively select the day, month and year from dropdowns. If you can see them with this colour scheme that is. 

Hidden ecommerce sites

Even for those brands that do actually sell online, it can be very hard to actually find the ecommerce part of this site. Are they embarrassed about it? 

Here on Dolce & Gabbana, there is a link to the online store, but it's in small grey text on a black background.

Also, though the site displays lots of images from its shows, advertising, and new collections, none of these pages actually link you to the product pages where you can actually buy them. 

Awful UX

Chanel's site is also horrendous. Truly horrendous. For one thing, it moves with the cursor, meaning you can't actually control anything.

As you 'accidentally' mouse over images and videos you get snatches of audio which are very irritating. 

Not making much effort

Perhaps Manolo Blahnik feels it doesn't have to worry about online so much, but it does seem a waste when a site is little more than a placeholder. 

Automatic audio

This is a pet hate of mine. I like to have a lot of tabs open, and sometimes you open a site meaning to return to it later, only to have the music you're listening to interrupted. 

It's intrusive and unnecessary. But many websites just don't seem to understand this. News sites with their embedded videos of Premier League highlights are some of the worst offenders, but visit a few luxury sites and you'll see they're just as bed. 

Thankfully, Google has introduced a symbol so you can identify the culprits amongst your open tabs and kill the sites responsible. 

As you can see, Chanel and YSL are guilty here, though they're not the only ones in the luxury 'space'. 

You can't actually buy anything

Back to Chanel here. Though there is a 'products' link, and a wide selection of items, don't expect to be able to buy anything.

Never mind the thousands (millions?) of searches with intent to purchases for Chanel products from web users worldwide. 

The product pages are a pretty sparse too. There are links to store locators and social sharing buttons, but you could hardly make them smaller. 

Weird terminology

Now, we don't want some sort of homogeneous web where all sites look and function in the same way, but there is something to be said for following convention at times. 

Especially when this makes life easier for the user and reflects the language they use. This also matters a great deal in search. 

Here are a couple of examples. The first is from Hermes, which has decided to buck convention for its calls to action.

Perhaps 'purchase' instead of 'add to basket' works for this site, but it's indicative of the rest of the site. 

The second example is from Bang & Olufsen. Its TV section is labelled 'picture'. Not a term people looking for TVs on Google will search for.

Perhaps B&O gets enough branded search traffic that it feels this is less important, but failing to optimise for Google is just leaving money on the table. 

Site search

Site search is important, yet luxury brands seem to pay less attention to it.

Indeed, an L2 study last year found that 30% of luxury brands' ecommerce sites don't incorporate site search.

Colour schemes and readability

This is an area where design often wins over function, with colour schemes which make it harder for users to pick out key links and elements. 

For example, with this colour scheme, D&G's site search box is almost invisible. 

Lack of attention to on-page SEO

Jimmy McCann looked at this issue in more detail last year, but suffice to say that SEO isn't always considered when designing luxury sites. 

Using text as images, and lack of attention to copywriting for SEO can mean that sites don't even rank for their own products. 

Here, Dolce & Gabbana is way down the organic search results (at number seven) for its own precise product name. 

In the next part I'll take a loom at how brands con convey luxury online, and some examples of sites which do manage to combine a luxury feel with great user experience... 

Graham Charlton

Published 30 April, 2014 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (16)

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Kestrel Lemen

Hiya,
I really appreciate your candor in this article. I've worked with several luxury brands and often I've found the same barriers. However as a marketing strategist I feel it's my duty to help move my clients forward and point out the flaws. Getting higher up buy-in is alway a challenge and of course you need to stay true to the 'brand image'. You've presented some great examples here. However I did just visit the Dom Perignon site and it worked really well, I was really really impressed.

about 2 years ago

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LouisA

Less is always more. Simplicity will always attract customers no matter how much they are spending. Its perhaps a perception that because its luxury and high price, from site owners, that leads to complex design.

about 2 years ago

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Gem Cocker

Really liked your article and bluntness, and agree with a lot of what you said - particularly when it comes to the ability to actually buy the product. I think some of the luxury brands shy away from this (or at least did do in the past) because of the point you made about service, and part of being luxury is the offline experience. But you're right - this is ignorant and just leaving money on the table.
Really looking forward to reading part two.
It would also be interesting to hear your thoughts on how luxury brands are 'doing social'.

about 2 years ago

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Gunars

Great article, illustrates all the problems with luxury online sites. I would say only about 5% of luxury online brands are more or less on the same level of major e-commerce fashion retailers. But then there is age-old question - do they want to be featured online? Do they want to sell their goods online? With luxury brands their 'experience' of lux happens on their store premises, something you can't really replicate online. Would selling their goods on their own website give customers the same experience as in-store? Probably not. Would strong online presence de-value the brand? Probably yes. This article goes to great detail in what is wrong with luxury brand online presence but fails to ask the most important question - does likes of Burberry and D&G want to have strong online presence and whether that will bring more to their brand without devaluing it?

about 2 years ago

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Steve Hough

Really interesting post. It can be a long learning curve for brands moving from being a "manufacturer" to becoming an online retailer from an operational point of view as well.

Given the experience from their flagship stores (which will be from only a few stores in key areas) customers involvement with these brands will probably come via John Lewis or other department stores/supermarkets.

Therefore, the online experience always gets compared to the department stores...or how easy Amazon is! :)

It's hard to be please everyone but key areas of the site should be incorporated into branded sites i.e. clear CTA's, good SEO, good content and then backed up by excellent customer service.

Like Gem Cocker says I'm looking forward to part 2 and would be interested to see how brands handle social too...outside of the ones doing very well like Burberry.

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Kestrel - thanks. I don't agree on the Dom Perignon site ( it was incredibly slow for one thing) though perhaps it works better on the browser you used (I was on Chrome).

@Gunars - the question of whether or not luxury brands can benefit from an online presence is interesting, but I think the answer is much more clearcut than it was a few years ago.

Whether you actually sell online or not, I'd say a strong online presence is essential. If your potential customers are online, why wouldn't you use the web to market to them?

As for selling online, why not? If people are coming to your site, why not give them something to buy? Ecommerce is still growing, and it's a foolish retailer that ignores this channel. The argument is perhaps more complex for those brands that are 'manufacturers' rather than retailers, but for the latter I'd say it's a no-brainer.

Indeed, Burberry is currently one of the best examples of a luxury brand online, and an example for others to follow.

about 2 years ago

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Max

Hey guys. Good read. Especially love the term "Mystery Navigation". Will keep it in mind for my next UX presentation. I'ld like to ask you to visit: http://brand.joop.com/en/ a site we recently cleaned up and redesigned from scratch (and got rid of many mysteries). Let us know what you think.

about 2 years ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Managing Director at EnchantSmall Business

Nice blog post.

There are some luxury brands that have taken their brand online very effectively. I think Mulberry are an example of a brand that understand digital and Ecommerce very well. Their website and digital marketing is strong.

about 2 years ago

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George Wright Theohari

Good piece. And while the article above focuses on good user experience (of course essential), there's a lot more potential to delight your consumers and encourage loyalty/engagement/spend(!) through the creative use of content.

Of course there are lots of examples of luxury brands doing it right - Mulberry as Philip mentions is one - Burberry, Vertu and Dunhill are also among those that have embraced digital in different ways and is reaping the benefits.

I've explored these and others in blog post here - http://bit.ly/digiluxe - hopefully a nice companion piece to the article above. Enjoy!

about 2 years ago

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Gunars

@Graham - I agree about online presence, you can achieve strong online presence without selling anything online. On other hand would brands like Prada or LV need attracting new customers? Are there people out there who don't know what 'Gucci' is?

Also I'm not convinced luxury brands care as much ( and they probably should ) about profit and how to sell more and more. Term 'luxury brand' has been overused lately. It's not luxury anymore if everyone has the item :) Don't forget Louis Vuitton burn their last year collections instead of selling them at discounted rate. All done for what? Brand value perception. They don't do discounts, they don't to sales. Yet they still turnover impressive amounts and stay profitable. Some food for thought.

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Gunars Yes, there are lots of different considerations and brands need to make their own decisions about the pros and cons of going online.

However, considering the sheer size of the online audience, which is only getting bigger for now, then it's a very brave brand that ignores this.

I also think brands always need to attract new customers. Brands, however well established they seem to be, can rise and fall, and so they have to maintain their appeal.

The future buyers of Prada or Gucci items will be online or on mobile so it seems to me that the brand has to be for its future success, even if it doesn't sell directly.

about 2 years ago

Lee Cash

Lee Cash, Senior Business Development Manager at Qubit

What a great article Graham. Thanks for sharing this with us. We were inspired enough by your article to write our own blog piece as a follow up. We have experience providing consumers clear signposting on where you can buy products using a referral marketing solution. This can be presented as a seamless part of the consumer journey and gives them meaningful exit points when they have decided they might like to purchase.

And exactly to your last comment above, Graham!

http://www.fusepump.com/blog/why-referral-marketing-could-be-solution-luxury-brand-websites

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks Lee. It does seem that, unless you link to product pages or show people where they can actually buy something, all the traffic that comes to these sites is wasted.

about 2 years ago

Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson, Director at Session Digital LtdSmall Business Multi-user

Great post. If luxury on the high street succeeds by delivering superior customer service, luxury brands need to do the same online. Some of the sites listed in the article suffer from quite common UX flaws (colour schemes, search, CTA etc.) so how can they provide a superior service if they can’t get the basics right?

@Gunars - It’s an interesting point about brand value perception. I agree with @Graham that it’s a brave path for a brand to choose and while remaining aloof and offline may work for some brands now, surely it is not sustainable?

If luxury prides itself on superior service, but a luxury brand refuses to provide any resemblance of service online, it immediately fails to provide what the customer needs - a damaging practice that breaks the ‘luxury spell’.

about 2 years ago

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suetlana wall

Great article Graham with very clear insight about the UX on the websites of luxury brands!

It seemed as if the brands play hard to get, like you mentioned (exclusivity) before.
I was surprised that such lax behavior exhibited in the current time to the online consumers, who still make the effort to visit the online channels of the brand. Important interaction with the consumer is missing, such as .signing up for a newsletter. I wonder if the luxury brands dare to set a clear online identity, apart from that they are seen as a luxury brands. It seems that strong strategic online approach is yet to be developed.
I look forward to reading your second part!

about 2 years ago

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Kavita

Hi

about 2 years ago

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